James Carothers + Dallas Moore

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James Carothers + Dallas Moore

Mixing together Tennessee twang, southern storytelling, and a big, booming baritone, James Carothers makes throwback country music for modern times.

It's an old-school sound that ignores the trends of contemporary radio. You won't find any bro-country songs here. No Auto Tuned vocals, either. Instead, Carothers dishes up a reminder of country music's golden years — a time filled with fiddle solos, analog production, and slyly simple songs about heartaches and hangovers. His first full-length album, Relapse, available May 5th, 2017, offers plenty of all three.

If Relapse bears similarities to classic releases by George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, it's because Carothers wrote most of the songs between daily gigs at The George Jones in Nashville. Since its opening in 2015, he's performed hundreds of shows at the venue, playing acoustic duo sets throughout the week with loyal sideman Jerry Lee Combs on bass and a weekly Saturday night band show on The George Jones Rooftop. George Jones' own widow, Nancy, personally hired Carothers for the gig, giving him the opportunity to do something he’s thankful for and that so many aspiring artists moving to Nashville only dream of doing – make a living playing music.

In addition to supporting his young family, performing daily at The George Jones has helped Carothers build a large fan base of fiercely supportive followers — fans who are drawn through the venue’s doors by the booming voice echoing down 2nd Avenue and his spot-on impressions of several of country music’s greatest icons. The gig has also allowed him to sharpen his stage show — not to mention his rare ability to entertain and interact with fans in a way that leaves most people feeling like they’ve made a new friend.

"My whole life, I've always loved those legendary artists,” he says, "I've really learned how to sound like them, too. My Willie Nelson sounds like Willie Nelson. My Johnny Cash sounds like Johnny Cash. When I do the Highwaymen, it sounds like all of them. People really do want to hear all these old classic songs and I guess singing them is kind of what has made things happen for me here in Nashville. I see a lot of folks doing double takes when they first walk by – the impressions definitely get their attention. Then they stop and hang out with us for a show or two, buy a CD, and a lot of them keep coming back. It may sound cliché, but Jerry Lee and I really have made a bunch of lifelong friends just "sittin’ on a bar stool actin’ like a darn fool."
James & his father, Jim Carothers.

Raised in rural Tennessee, Carothers grew up leading acapella singing every Sunday in the Church of Christ. His father was a hobby songwriter who landed a song on the Grand Ole Opry and recorded a couple of studio albums in Nashville before moving the family out west for work while his son was still in grade school. Inspired by his dad, Carothers always toyed with songwriting and began playing his own shows in local honky tonks around New Mexico during his teenage years. Meanwhile, he got married, started a family, and paid the bills as a technician at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, working in the same place the atomic bomb was created.

Carothers visited Nashville in 2014 and recorded Honky Tonk Land (an EP released the same year) at Beaird Music Group. The EP garnered a little attention from traditional country music fans and was even featured by MusicRow magazine’s Robert K. Oermann as a DISCovery Award Winner. But the music gig remained a side project until 2015, when he — encouraged by his wife — left the lab for good and returned to Tennessee, this time settling in the country music capital of Nashville. The opening lines of his new project’s title track “Relapse,” although seemingly penned through a relationship lens, may also elude to the stone-cold country crooner’s true feelings about returning to the south. Dallas Moore’s old-school country sound developed honestly, following over 20 years of sharing stages and studios with his honky-tonk heroes. Satellite radio support, paired with a willingness to perform over 300 shows a year, finds the seasoned veteran positioned to reach the Americana masses with his forthcoming album Mr. Honky Tonk.

Tastemakers have taken note already, with the Dallas Moore Band crowned the Ameripolitan Music Awards’ 2017 Outlaw Group of the Year. The award came after three prior nominations for the band No Depression credits with bringing “hangovers and excitement to outlaw country fans everywhere.”

Recent career strides caught the attention of producer/country-music heavyweight Dean Miller, son of Roger Miller and an accomplished songwriter himself, having penned tunes with George Jones, Hank Williams III, Jamey Johnson and more. Miller entered Baird Music Group’s Nashville studio with Moore and his band to record what was originally planned to be a five-song EP. “Out of all the things we’ve ever done, I think Dean captured what I do way better than anyone else we’ve ever worked with,” Moore says. “It was the best recording experience I ever had.”

The EP turned album after its barnstorming title track—a song Moore actually wrote 20 years prior—gained serious traction on Sirius XM satellite radio’s Outlaw Country channel. The album’s other tunes came more recently, all of them written in the past year and a half, making them clearer snapshots of how sharing stages (and rounds of shots) with his country-music idols has impacted his songwriting. “In the last several years, I’ve been real blessed to tour with a lot of my songwriting influences, and they’ve helped me improve my craft,” Moore says. “Guys like Dean Dillon, Billy Joe Shaver and Ray Wylie Hubbard have been so supportive. It’s really cool when your heroes become your friends, and that’s what happened in the past several years.”

Moore’s stage show—already seen in years past by fans of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd—has improved with every opportunity to open for an iconic country or Southern-rock artist. “If you’re playing in the slot before Dean Dillon,” Moore says, “You’d better not suck.”

Another crew of country luminaries performed on the album, including harmonica legend Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Chris Stapleton), famed Nashville session bassist Michael Rhodes and pedal-steel master Steve Hinson. “We walked in to the studio and saw all of these incredible players lined up,” Moore says. “I thought they were there to play with someone else!”

Even with such ample backing, the main attraction on Mr. Honky Tonk is still Moore and his deft skill as a songwriter and lyricist. Like so many of his inspirations, he’s an ace at spinning relatable stories. On “Killing Me Nice and Slow,” he weaves an impactful tale of lost love (“It’s a long way down when you’re higher than a Georgia pine on love and whiskey the night before / Then you hear the slamming of the door”). From there, Moore puts his spin on time-tested country tropes such as celebrating place (“Texahio,” a nod to splitting time between Texas and his native Cincinnati) and balancing Saturday-night hellraising with Sunday-morning God praising (“Shoot Out the Lights”).

Moore’s mother—a bluegrass and gospel performer herself—bought her son his first guitar when he was 16 years old. Before that, sports had been his first priority. “My big claim to fame back in those days—one year I beat out Ken Griffey Jr. for the most home runs in the league,” Moore says. “But then I got a guitar the next year, and I quit—I walked away as a winner!”

A few years later, Moore enrolled at Northern Kentucky University to study jazz and classical guitar. But he found his true calling in a less high-brow environment around the same time, performing on the local bar scene in a country house band. Multi-night stints playing classic covers set a precedent for the Dallas Moore Band’s sound and unrelenting tour schedule. And Moore’s gruff vocals have made him an ideal singer of songs about hard luck and harder living as far back as his 1991 debut LP, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.

Once Mr. Honky Tonk arrives in February, expect Moore to play nonstop in support of his new album. He played a whopping 327 shows in 2017, and that was without an album to promote. Who knows, he might just play solo or with his band every single night in 2018.